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Speculation regarding origin of HIV

by Bill Osler / June 4, 2006 6:15 AM PDT

I don't think the content of this broadcast is new, but it is a convenient summary of a lot of the thinking about the history of HIV.

NPR : Origin of AIDS Linked to Colonial Practices in Africa, ...
The current thinking is that the colonial horrors of mid-20th-century Africa allowed the virus to jump from chimpanzees to humans and become established in human populations around 1930. But there is still uncertainty as to why AIDS was first discovered in Los Angeles and New York, and not Cameroon, where scientists say it surely started.

Knowing the origin of the virus does not give an obvious solution but it does have historical interest. The reconstruction (like all historical reconstruction) is obviously speculative, but my understanding is that the theory of early spread via non-sterile immunization campaigns is credible.

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I don't want to listen to the
by duckman / June 4, 2006 7:13 AM PDT

crappy NPR, "What colonial horrors of the 20th century?"

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Don't know
by EdH / June 4, 2006 7:35 AM PDT

What natives slaughtering chimps for bush meat has to do with colonialism I can't fathom. Politically correct boilerplate I'm thinking. Maybe white men from Europe FORCED them to hunt chimps!
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I was thinking
by duckman / June 4, 2006 7:59 AM PDT
In reply to: Don't know

the the horrible colonial practice was T0gO dressed up like a French maid and being passed around at a party of drunk Europeans. Togo would have to be REALLY drunk for that.

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Sometimes it helps to pursue the links ...
by Bill Osler / June 4, 2006 10:50 AM PDT
In reply to: Don't know

I've given a very abbreviated version of the story in my reply to Duckman.

The written summary I linked to was not a terribly accurate summary of the story itself. More's the pity.

Despite NPR's rather obvious biases they frequently do offer very interesting content.

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I clicked on all the links and didn't see that information..
by EdH / June 4, 2006 11:22 AM PDT

Where did you find it?

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The audio link in the first post.
by Bill Osler / June 4, 2006 11:50 AM PDT
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by EdH / June 4, 2006 11:58 AM PDT

I usually skip those. Too much for my connection I'm afraid.

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by duckman / June 4, 2006 8:22 PM PDT
In reply to: Oh...

I don't want to listen to NPR anywho

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Too bad. It's your loss ...
by Bill Osler / June 5, 2006 10:03 PM PDT
In reply to: And

NPR is obviously liberal, and I frequently disagree with them. Still, I'd rather listen to them than to the talking heads from either side who are more worried about audience share and sound bites than facts.

At least NPR has interesting content.

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"At least NPR has interesting content."
by duckman / June 5, 2006 10:10 PM PDT

Don't think so.

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You may want to learn a bit more about history ...
by Bill Osler / June 4, 2006 10:54 AM PDT

If you don't understand some of the problems with colonial empires already then I am not inclined to waste my time discussing it. In any event, ignorance and ad hominem argument do not really add much to the discussion.


Although the text blurb associated with the story was a bit 'over the top' the story itself was actually not so provocative.

HIV almost certainly made the jump from chimps to humans as a result of hunting bush meat. That part has nothing to do with colonialism. The colonial powers enter the story because they likely caused the rapid accidental spread of HIV among humans.

It turns out that the European powers in that part of Africa made an attempt to offer immunizations for various diseases using techniques that were not quite up to modern standards. I do not know enough about contemporary techniques used in Europe and the US at the time to be absolutely certain, but I'm fairly sure that the immunization practices used in Africa at the time were well below the standards of the time. Mass immunization campaigns using contaminated syringes and needles on large numbers of people offer the perfect environment for rapid spread of a virus that apparently was not (yet) being spread from person to person on any large scale.

If that version of history is correct, as I suspect it is, then the result is not that colonialism caused HIV (and the story itself did not really suggest that) but rather that actions of the colonial powers caused the widespread appearance of HIV much sooner than would have otherwise been the case.

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(NT) (NT) Then why no widespread AIDS epidemic at that time?
by Evie / June 4, 2006 11:00 AM PDT
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Multiple hypotheses
by Bill Osler / June 4, 2006 11:34 AM PDT

Right now I'm tired and I do not remember all of the discussion from the NPR story on that question, but there are multiple potential explanations and quite likely the delay in the epidemic was multifactorial.

There is more information about some of the theories at The Origin of HIV and the First Cases of AIDS - the page does not appear to be as up-to-date as I would like, but it includes interesting information.

(1) It is not clear that the SIV virus was initially as easy to propagate as it is now. It may be that the virus had to mutate somewhat before it could spread rapidly. Blood-borne spread from host to host would offer many opportunities for the virus to mutate.

(2) Even with the added boost from the immunization programs the initial number of infected people may have been small. Initial infection may not have been very efficient. It sometimes takes a while for epidemics to appear after the pathogen is introduced. That is not true for all diseases (eg: Bubonic Plague is fairly rapid and impressive in presentation) but for a disease like HIV that frequently has a long asymptomatic period and may not have been terribly contagious at first it might take a long time to actually detect the epidemic.

(3) Victims do not die of HIV per se. They die from infections or malnutrition. Given the state of African medicine during that time period I suspect that a number of cases were missed. Even here in the US in the 1980s it took a while to figure things out. Until the public health folks recognized the pattern of unusual infections and figured out the common link of homosexual behavior the patients in the US were puzzling. In Africa, against a background of considerable disease from other sources that we do not see here in the US, and with considerably fewer medical resources than we have here, it would have been much harder to recognize patterns like this.

(4) Various social behaviors have changed. I don't know much about these changes in Africa, but in the US there have been considerable changes since the 1940s in IV drug use, sexual activity and travel. Some of these changes would apply to Africa (eg: use of blood products, IV drug use) but I do not know how much their sexual practices have changed.

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(NT) (NT) Is ad hominem the phrase du jour?
by duckman / June 4, 2006 11:31 AM PDT
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I've used it before ...
by Bill Osler / June 4, 2006 11:49 AM PDT

Today is not the first time I've referred to ad hominem in the forum. (see below)

As it happens it is the phrase most descriptive of the bulk of replies to anybody who isn't pretty far to the right in this forum.

The ad hominem fallacy has just been more blatant today (at least in the posts I've read) than it is some days. Some days I take the time to note it, others I don't. Examples:






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(NT) (NT) Several have used it (a lot)
by duckman / June 4, 2006 11:53 AM PDT
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With justification I suspect ...
by Bill Osler / June 4, 2006 11:57 AM PDT

I don't remember seeing anybody else use it recently but then I've been accused of having a bad memory.

Still, the label is frequently an accurate description of discourse both in SE and in the larger political world.

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Definition of Ad Hominem
by Evie / June 4, 2006 11:34 PM PDT
An ad hominem argument, also known as argumentum ad hominem (Latin, literally ''argument against the person'') or attacking the messenger, involves replying to an argument or assertion by attacking the person presenting the argument or assertion rather than the argument itself. It is usually, though not always, a logical fallacy

Ad hominem as logical fallacy

A (fallacious) ad hominem argument has the basic form:

1. A makes claim X.
2. There is something objectionable about A.
3. Therefore claim X is false.

The first statement is called a 'factual claim' and is the pivot point of much debate. The last statement is referred to as an 'inferential claim' and represents the reasoning process. There are two types of inferential claim, explicit and implicit.

Now this may not pertain so much to this NPR example, but it does relate to many of the cases where the messenger is ''attacked''. When ''A'' has REPEATEDLY made claims that have been credibly refuted on multiple occasions, then when ''A'' makes the claim yet again, an ''ad hominem attack'' is not only justified, it is almost required.

I reject the notion that if one questions the messenger they are always engaging in the ''logical fallacy of an ad hominem attack''. When a particular messenger has a track record for bias, innacuracies or outright fabrication, it is encumbent upon the person refuting the claim to bring these to light. FAR too often we are regaled with ''messages'' from experts where the purveyor of the message fails to inform us of the expert's possible biases or conflicts of interest.

A person that repeatedly relies on such sources eventually takes on the air of credibility they have, or lack thereof as it were.

Nobody here seriously thinks we have to properly debunk that ''God hates British cigarettes'' when it is Pastor Fred Phelps bringing us the message. Nobody would be chastised for an ad hominem attack if this man's radical views are merely dismissed out of hand along with any other of God's teachings he may wish to communicate.

Now many of the sources aren't quite this bad, but enough of them are sufficiently questionable ''A'' bears significant responsibility to hold up his end of the bargain in the above ''logical fallacy''. IOW, "A" must make a credible claim or an argument that can be easily substantiated in the first place. Also, when questioning the credibility of the source, nobody is claiming that ''X'' MUST be false. Only that ''X'' being true is highly suspect. And when "A"'s argument is rife with irrelevant "facts", rhetoric and outright smears, it is well within "B"'s right to dismiss it out of hand.

In this case, NPR shot themselves in the foot with the Colonial red herring. It is encumbent upon NPR (not listeners or potential listeners) to change this behavior in order to restore credibility. Only then will the audience focus on what may very well be an excellent well-supported argument re: the origin of HIV.

Evie Happy
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The definition is correct, of course ,,,
by Bill Osler / June 5, 2006 9:54 PM PDT

I won't even dispute the lack of necessity regarding repeatedly 'disproving' identical assertions.

I would, however, object to the implication that most of the attacks on the messenger here in SE fall into that category. Furthermore, it would be more appropriate to state why the 'new' assertion is the same as a previous assertion even if a summary of the previous 'proof' is not intended. Even if the 'new' claim is not so 'new', attacking the messenger is (at best) rude. Completely ignoring the 'new' post would probably be more productive anyway.

I specifically do not accept the notion that because A 'always' posts inflammatory comments that subsequent posts (and A) can be ridiculed just for being from A.

Furthermore, much of what passes for 'proof' is suspect. If I 'disprove' A using a bogus argument, or if the 'disproof' is challenged then it is hardly legitimate for me to offer ridicule in reply.

For example, re: Valerie Plame. I do not know what the truth of this matter is and frankly I'm not even all that interested in the story. However, it offers a good example. I have noted repeated claims that it had been 'proved' that Plame was not, for example, 'undercover' and/or 'covert'. What I saw in the links I read was repeated assertions by pundits or political hacks that Plame had not been 'undercover' or 'covert' but not any fact based discussion regarding the details of how her status did or did not qualify under the law. My understanding is that some of the details of the law in question are rather byzantine and that there is some ambiguity in application of the law. Is 'covert' the same as 'undercover'? It appears that the terms have been used interchangeably in some contexts but not in others. IOW, I'm not sure anybody outside the intelligence community can say with certainty whether or not Ms Plame was still considered 'under cover' or 'covert' at the time in question. Still, despite the lack of real proof, those in this forum who choose to believe that she was still in a 'covert' status until press reports (allegedly from Cheney's office or whomever) have been thoroughly pilloried in this forum by people who (I suspect) do not have any more factual knowledge in this matter than the average high school student. I understand that there are other issues besides Ms Plame's official status, and I understand the her husband has not been blameless in his conduct. However, as I understand it, none of that is directly relevant to the question regarding whether Ms Plame was supposedly in a covert status.

Similarly regarding global warming and any number of other issues.

It is easy for the majority to abuse the minority, but that does not make the majority right nor does it legitimate their logic.

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by Angeline Booher / June 4, 2006 8:52 AM PDT
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I think that mechanism is unlikely ...
by Bill Osler / June 4, 2006 10:56 AM PDT
In reply to: Interesting.

There has been some speculation that HIV could be spread by mosquito vectors but my understanding is that the concern appears more theoretical than real.

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I think the butchering scenario is more likely...
by EdH / June 4, 2006 11:15 AM PDT

Good thing too. If it were mosquito borne it would probably be more widespread. And probably not so prevalent amongst gays in this country.

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Why are we avoiding the obvious?
by duckman / June 4, 2006 11:33 AM PDT

What are the origins of syphilis?

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What's so obvious?
by Bill Osler / June 4, 2006 11:54 AM PDT

Slaughtering 'bush meat' is a reportedly common behavior and it does result in blood exposure.

Are you suggesting that human/chimp sex is more common than 'bush meat' consumption? I'd be skeptical of that.

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Hope its okay to say this,but I had heard about 20 years ago
by Ziks511 / June 4, 2006 12:50 PM PDT

that the transmission of SIV to humans was thought to have been through the Green Monkeys used in the Bush Meat trade. Certainly all forms of monkey including Chimps are used in the trade, and there is even an expanding growth to the trade in Europe as a delicacy of all things. Personally I'd rather eat a certain political leader who shall remain nameless than a chimp or indeed any monkey.

Talk about missing the obvious, though. Maybe there are more doctors in Los Angeles, and more patients who go to them when they have a problem, especially since the life of the average New Yorker or Angelino is far less fraught with danger and accidental death than is the average bush dwelling African. Duh.

We already know who Patient Zero was (a Canadian gay flight attendant) to whom most of the original cases in the US have already been linked. It doesn't seem such a mystery to me.


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Probably not correct ...
by Bill Osler / June 5, 2006 10:01 PM PDT

It is true that our large number of physicians made finding HIV easier, but I do not believe your other points were correct:

Green monkeys were probably not the source:
AM - Scientists confirm AIDS originated in Cameroon chimps An international team of scientists has finally tracked the origin of the HIV virus to two colonies of chimpanzees in the southeast of the African nation of Cameroon.

From that same link, regarding 'Patient O' (or Patient 0 if you prefer):

... four years after the publication of Shilts' article, Dr. Darrow repudiated his study, admitting its methods were flawed and that Shilts' had misrepresented its conclusions.

While Gaetan Dugas was a real person who did eventually die of AIDS, the Patient Zero story was not much more than myth and scaremongering. HIV in the US was to a large degree initially spread by gay men, but this occurred on a huge scale over many years, probably a long time before Dugas even began to travel.

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